Ralph Galbraith, chair of the electrical engineering department who became dean in 1951.
The Engineering Boom
The college experienced its greatest growth and largest enrollment in the years following World War II. By 1947, enrollment in the nation’s universities was 2.3 million. Half of those students were veterans, most of whom attended college on the GI Bill. In the four years following the war, enrollment at SU quintupled, with more than 25 percent of the returning veterans seeking engineering training.
William Smith ’50 was one of those veterans. He came to SU after serving three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After earning a degree in mechanical engineering, he began working at American Can Company. He retired in 1982 as the company’s executive vice president, and in 1983 created United States Can Company by purchasing three assembly plants. The trio of facilities grew to 38 plants before Smith retired as U.S. Can’s CEO in 1998.
Smith, an SU trustee and ECS advisory board member, fondly remembers his time at SU, when he was a member of the largest graduating class in U.S. history. “It was a great time to be a student, because most of us had just returned from war and there was a kind of camaraderie that is tough to describe unless you were here,” says Smith, who teaches an ECS course in manufacturing processes. “People had struggled for years with the Depression, followed by the war, and everybody was happy to get a chance at this free education from the government. The students here had a purpose, and that was to get done with school and start working. There were job opportunities everywhere, and we wanted to take advantage of those opportunities. Nobody had any money, and the GI Bill gave us the chance to live the American dream, to have a better life than our parents.”
Smith believes it was a natural transition for returning veterans to study engineering, since it was prevalent in all branches of the armed forces. Because of the size of the post-war classes, the engineering program outgrew its space and once again looked to private industry for help.
Through the leadership of Chancellor William Pearson Tolley, SU and Carrier Corporation jointly purchased a group of buildings on Thompson Road in East Syracuse that General Electric (GE) had used during the war to build jet aircraft engines and radar systems. The engineering college relocated to the Thompson Road campus in 1948. It was a hectic time for the students, who for the most part lived in prefabricated structures near Main Campus, where they took their freshman and liberal arts classes. Transportation for the six-mile trip to Thompson Road was provided by shuttle buses, which the students referred to as “Blue Beetles.” Although the learning environment was unorthodox, Smith says the professors were excellent and students were prepared for the workplace after graduation. “The GI Bill era educated a generation of American managers,” Smith says. “A lot of people got a very good education during that period.”
After meeting the space crisis of the “GI bulge,” SU returned the College of Applied Science to Main Campus, selling the Thompson Road campus to Carrier in 1952 for $3.6 million. Plans were made for two new engineering buildings, and the college’s name was changed to the L.C. Smith College of Engineering. The William Lawyer Hinds Hall of Engineering, named after the former SU trustee and chairman of the Crouse-Hinds Company, was completed in 1955. Today, it houses the engineering department offices and classrooms. The Edward A. Link Hall of Engineering, named in honor of the aviation executive and inventor who received an honorary degree from SU in 1966, was built in 1970 and now houses the dean’s office, labs, and classrooms.
The Electrical Engineering Era
Although the space crunch from the GI bulge had subsided, the college was permanently changed. The prosperous time of the early ’50s allowed more faculty members to be hired, and better facilities were available in the new buildings. One of the departments that benefited most from the increase in faculty was electrical engineering. Before the war, the college had only three electrical engineering professors. Ralph Galbraith, chair of electrical engineering during the GI era, essentially created a new department, thanks to the influx of veterans who wanted to study the topic, as well as the college’s association with GE in both graduate education and research. At the time, GE had just finished constructing a multimillion-dollar complex known as “Electronics Park,” with the mission to make Syracuse “The Electronics Capital of the World.”
The college also hired world-class faculty, including Samuel Seely, author of the pioneering book Electronics Roger Harrington and David Chang, who were recognized for their research in electromagnetics; Glenn Glasford, who was involved in the early development of television technology; and Wilbur R. LePage, who during the war helped develop the proximity fuze (a radar-based device used to ignite such explosives as bombs and mines) and later became a key figure in the birth of computer engineering at SU.
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